Portmanian Architecture

Carl Dworkin will be serving as Teaching Associate for this studio.

Portmanian Architecture is architecture characterized by the tropes that constitute the famed atrium hotels and office complexes of John Portman. These include the glass elevator, a gondola aerial lift rotated into the z axis; the elevator shaft turned inside out, revealing its inner workings; lifts passing periodically in and out of open space, solid concrete tubes, glass tubes and normal elevator shafts; the transverse spatial sequences produced by escalators and ceremonial spiral stairs; the hyper-articulated railings composed of horizontal and vertical patterns of porosity and plantings; the blurring of automobile and pedestrian thresholds; the suppression of the symbolic significance of any entrance; the introduction of pavilions and sculptures as isolated architectural figures in the “plein air” captured within the interiorized urban space of the atrium; the revolving panoramic restaurant, invisible from the atrium and expressed on the outside as an airborne device, albeit anchored to the main building; the discreet articulation of reflective transparent and textured opaque components of the exterior; the aggregation of vertically attenuated masses to produce wide office buildings; and the cylindrical tower form used as a means to reduce the apparent scale of the already comparably narrow hotel annex.

The properties inherent to Portmanian Architecture were deployed prevalently in large scale private developments from the 1970s through the 90s. Hotels, office complexes, malls, airports and even museums emulated the immersive and urbanized architectural experience produced by the famed Portman hotel atrium. Aesthetic and political theorists regarded the commercial atrium to be the apotheosis of post-modern space.

But during the first decades of the twenty first century, while this particular species of mixed use multi-level development has continued to propagate, particularly in rapidly urbanizing countries, its relationship to other types and scales of urban morphology has evolved significantly. Many western cities have been recentralized. As a result, the atrium is no longer a dislocated and monumental component of suburban space. Interiorized environments have been reconfigured with the aim to integrate with the exterior spaces of residential developments and pedestrian oriented streets. Alongside this tendency, the atrium type has been rescaled and adapted to the concept of the boutique: hotels and retail centers for small scale vendors as opposed to mega-hotels and department stores. Meanwhile, many of the spatial effects produced by the large scale manifestations of post-modernism have been usurped by communication technologies.

The hypothesis of the studio is that the Portmanian architectural elements which had previously played supportive roles in monumental atrium spaces can be redeveloped to become the leading parts in a differently conceived inside-out immersive urban/architectural ensemble.

Upon identifying the motivations, forms and behaviors that govern this kind of architecture in highly specific terms, this studio will reapply them in contexts of intense familiarity to the students: hometowns or other cities with which they have intimate, general and detailed knowledge. Students will extract, transform recombine and re-deploy the elements of the Portman oeuvre in order to establish new types of architectural and urban synthesis compatible with their sites and with contemporary programmatic trends. A trip to Atlanta to tour several of the most renowned hotels and office buildings and to meet with the Portmans is pending the acquisition of funding.